September brings a fresh start; a new school year, return from vacation and back to work, cooling weather and the promise of autumn on the horizon. In addition to being a month of returning to work and school life, for some it is also a return to stress.
Physical touch from a fellow human being can help to decrease stress levels and offer comfort during this time of transition. The good news, is that we all have the ability to offer touch to our stressed out loved ones and in turn inspire the loved ones in our life to reciprocate. Touch helps people to feel more connected to one another, which is in my opinion, is one of the best ways to combat stress, loneliness, increase happiness and strengthen bonds and relationships. It doesn’t have to be exhausting or complicated either, here are a few of my tips for a few simple routines that can be applied to your partner, children, family and/or friends:
Forearms, Wrists, hands, calves, ankles and feet
Many of these areas (fingers in particular) have concentrated touch receptors which translates to feeling more sensitive to touch, which means that you get more bang for your buck- these areas feel great you don’t have to press hard or spend a really long time to make it count.
Always start with the area closest to the torso (forearm or wrist, calf or ankle) and with a gentle but firm grip, apply oil (if using) and rub in the direction of the heart (towards the torso).
Forearm, wrist and hand: Start at the wrist and glide up the forearm, paying attention to both sides as you head toward the elbow- be gentle and thorough. Spend some extra time at the wrist as there are a lot of nerve endings there. When you get to the hand, with the palm up, gently knead the hand open and in small, circular strokes taking extra time to work in the area between the thumb and pointer finger. Rub each area of the palm before heading to the fingers. Gently but firmly grasp the base of each finger and thumb and work your way up all sides to the tip. Take your time and make sure to contact each area front and back, because that’s what makes it feel the more enjoyable and thorough.
Calf, ankle and foot: Similar to the wrist and hand, start with the area closest to the torso by rubbing up the limb from the ankle towards the knee. In a circular motion, rub around the boney bumps that stick out on both sides of the ankle (the medial and lateral malleoli) before moving on to the foot. Continuing with the heel, work your way around the sides and where the heel connects with the arch with upward (toward the torso), circular strokes (I find using the knuckle of my thumb or pointer finger the best in this area as the tissues are quite tough). Then explore the arch with long, firm but gentle strokes towards the heel (firm strokes really help if a person is ticklish). Massage the outer edge of the foot before working towards the foot pad by the toes, which you then massage with a circular motion, working towards the creases of the toes. Finally, gently but firmly grasp the base of each toe and work your way on all sides towards to the tip. Again, take your time and make sure to contact each area front and back.
Scalp and ears
Scalp and ear massage are always done without oil (imagine the mess if you used oil in your loved one’s hair!). For the ears, start at the lobe and in a gentle pinching and light, circular rubbing motion, work your way up the ear and then back down again. For the scalp, rub with a firm pressure and make sure to get all the way to the edge of the hairline. Make sure to have contact with all of your fingers on the scalp and try to get every area- especially the base of the skull and temples.
*Do not do a scalp massage on babies under 2, but all other areas are great.
*Consult a practitioner before massaging the ankles, feet, wrist or hands of a pregnant woman.
*Do not massage a limb if swelling is present on or above (closer to the torso) the area you wish to massage.
*Do not massage any injured, painful or bruised area of the body unless directed by an RMT or other health care practitioner.
*Be extra gentle with elderly skin as it gets thinner with age and can’t take as much friction (but please make a point to massage elderly friends and family as they are often the most deprived of touch).
Tips for Best Results
- If you want to use oil, I suggest using a very small amount (a few drops) of grapeseed, apricot kernel oil or jojoba – all oils are considered hypoallergenic. Grapeseed is affordable and readily available (perhaps in your kitchen) but stains fabrics (i.e sheets and clothes). Apricot Kernel and jojoba oil are more challenging to find and expensive, but are less likely to stain.
- You don’t have to use oil, I often don’t when at home. I just adjust my touch to not rub the skin as much when massaging. You can also use these techniques to apply someone’s favorite hand or foot lotion- consider it a 2 for 1 opportunity!
- Check in with the person while you are massaging them and ask if the pressure feels good. Apply their feedback and stop if the say that something hurts or doesn’t feel good.
- Practice on your own body too! The above areas are all easily accessed on yourself and will not only feel good to massage, but also make you more aware of what might feel good for others.
A Note on Firm but Gentle Pressure
Many people think that you need an iron grip or lots of pressure to effectively massage someone, but too much pressure can cause pain and might require a trip to an RMT to undo what you’ve done. The best way to think of the right pressure is to consider what happens when you mix cornstarch and water in a bowl- if you press too hard, you will meet a firm resistance and stay on the surface, but if you gently press your finger into the mix, the cornstarch and water will liquefy and you will be able to sink down to the bottom of the bowl. It’s the same with our tissues- if you push too hard too fast, the tissues will resist and you won’t be able to get very far without causing pain, but back off a little and you will feel your fingers sink in nicely. A little pressure goes a long way, so just take your time.
If you have any questions about how you can best massage your loved ones at home, feel free to bring it up in you next session with me, I would love to help support you in spreading the joy of touch!
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